Belgian Christian Benteke of Aston Villa (right) and his team-mates are in for a torrid time against high flying Arsenal who visit Villa Park in the Premier League on Tuesday morning Malaysian time. - AFP
IT’S payback time. Arsenal’s opening game defeat to Aston Villa is admittedly the Gunners’ own undoing but, hey, everyone needs someone to blame for their blunders!
That fateful day is generally a blip in Arsenal fans’ distant memory and that is where they want it to stay, especially in a title race as tight as this.
Luckily, there is no better time to have a rematch with Aston Villa than now – after their devastating loss to Sheffield United in the FA Cup last Saturday.
Paul Lambert’s team are also haunted by relegation fears, which have been intensified by their extensive list of injuries.
Hardest hit is their backline, with defenders Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker crocked and unlikely to recover in time to face Arsenal on Monday (early Tuesday morning Malaysian time).
Villa talisman Gabriel Agbonlahor is also reportedly awaiting medical clearance while striker Libor Kozak is out with a long-term knee injury.
Lambert’s biggest headache, however, is not his team’s injuries but their seeming lack of drive and quality. Against the supposedly weaker Sheffield United, Villa showed no ambition and were devoid of ideas.
Antonio Luna and Christian Benteke, who started the season so brightly, have somehow faded out – leaving Villa short of sharpness upfront. Benteke, for one, has gone 12 games without scoring.
The bad news for the Gunners is that the Villans tend to raise their game when the North Londoners drop in at Villa Park.
Against Arsenal, Villa are expected to defend deep, so Arsene Wenger’s men will need all their creative guile to find a breakthrough.
At least their main creative force will be back – Olivier Giroud is fit for the Birmingham trip while Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are available should Arsenal need more established options up front.
And, of course, Arsenal’s biggest improvement since that August opener, Mesut Ozil, is set to return to give them an extra boost in attack.
But with Villa predictably set to carry on their counter attack game, it’s the availability of the Gunners’ first choice back four that will be most valuable. Laurent Koscielny – he owes it to the fans to make up for his foolery in that fateful game – has a score to settle against the Villans anyway.
Arsenal to win 3-0, while Arsene Wenger will unveil a new striker. We can dream.